Sedona Westerners in the Red Rock News

November 23, 2012

Coconino National Forest Logging Railroads: A History Hike


by Marcia Lee

TOOT TOOT……From the late 1880s until the 1960s trains hauling logs were a frequent sight in the national forest in the Flagstaff area.

Ron Schneider shows maps of the rail roads in Lake Mary area, and explains that the lake was created in 1903 when Walnut Creek was dammed. This lake was used as a mill site and never used to float logs.
Photo courtesy of Marcia and Ken Lee.

On October 17th The Westerners visited the Flagstaff area at its best with bright blue skies and no wind. Ron Schneider, with Liz Sweeney as our professional tailgater, led this history hike. Ron presented each of us with a 16 page (!) document that highlighted and summarized the history of logging companies and railroad companies that played a big part in the history of Flagstaff.

Edward Ayer started the first lumber mill in 1881. In addition to addressing the increasing demand for lumber through out the west, one of the mill products was railroad ties for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad that was being built on the 35th parallel and needed 3,000 to 3,400 ties per mile. At the same time, the South Pacific line was being built along the 32nd parallel and also needed ties. Also in 1881 Colonel James Eddy saw the need for a north south link between these two railroads and started the Arizona Mineral Belt Railroad to move materials as needed and to transport logs to mills. During the time frame of 1890 to 1960 there were three lumber companies that operated railroads in the Flagstaff area. A total of 5 different lines expanded and threaded their way in an extensive network around the logging areas: Munds Park and Howard Spring, Anderson Mesa, Clark Valley, Allan Lake, and Mormon Mountain Line.

If you look closely, evidence of these multiple lines can be spotted throughout the forest. The railroads were a Class I standard railroad, different from the narrow gauge seen in some areas of the country. The remnants that are visible include stone, rock, and old ties that follow the railroad beds. All of the fishplates, spikes, and other iron were scavenged during WW II as metal was so scarce. Our first stop was at an abandoned trestle over Walnut Creek. The steel that once spanned the stone and concrete piers was damaged beyond repair in a 1920s train wreck.

The second part of our hike actually followed and coincided with the old rail bed that went to Mormon Lake. Hikers, equestrians and elk use this trail. Old ties, stone work, stones that supported a wooden trestle, and the railroad bed are clearly visible. This trail also coincides with the 790-mile Arizona Trail that goes from the top to the bottom of Arizona. The third portion of the hike was near Mormon lake (the largest natural lake in Arizona and reputed to be prime elk habitat). In the 1920s The Mormon lake railroad extension was built to access the Mormon Lake timber units. Although not intended to be a passenger carrier, it sometimes carried as many as 300 passengers on a weekend and became a factor in opening Mormon lake as a recreational area.

What a thrill to walk in history (on a 100 year old rail road bed), hearing about details from Ron, and observing it all as we walked in the golden tunnel of Flagstaff foliage

The Westerners always welcome new members. If you are interested in joining, visit You also may join at our monthly meetings. The next one is January 10th, 2012 7:00 PM, at the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley, 100 Meadowlark Drive, Sedona. December's meeting will be replaced by the Clubs Holiday Party.